Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Blackhawks erupt in Edmonton as playoff talks heat up

Four takeaways: Blackhawks erupt in Edmonton as playoff talks heat up

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Tuesday:

1. Special teams-filled first period

The Blackhawks and Oilers had a busy first 20 minutes. They combined for six penalties, which led to a whole lot of action, particularly during the latter stages of the period.

Erik Gustafsson scored on the power play — his third goal in two games after going scoreless in his previous 15 — to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 1:55 into the game. The road team was in total control.

But in the final four minutes, the Blackhawks committed four minor penalties and handed the Oilers several man advantages, including a 5-on-3 opportunity. Leon Draisaitl converted on two of the power plays, both of which were assisted by Connor McDavid, as the Oilers went into the intermission with a 2-1 lead. They had outshot the Blackhawks 12-1 over that multiple power-play span.

2. Third period explosion

After a dull second period, the Blackhawks absolutely erupted in the third period. And the Oilers completely unraveled.

The Blackhawks scored five consecutive goals, including three in a 2:10 span, to put themselves up 6-2 before Edmonton even knew what hit them. John Hayden, Dylan Strome, Patrick Kane, Drake Caggiula and Dominik Kahun all got in on the action for the Blackhawks, who outshot the Oilers 14-4 in the final 20 minutes.

Going into Tuesday, the Blackhawks had only two wins in 24 tries when leading after two periods for a win percentage of .083, which ranked sixth-worst. They also handed the Oilers just their second regulation loss when leading after two periods this season after going 12-1-3 in their previous 16 occurrences.

In total, the Blackhawks had 22 shot attempts (14 on goal), 11 scoring chances and six high-danger chances, according the naturalstattrick. The Oilers had 12 attempts (four on goal), five scoring chances and one high-danger chance.

It's only the third time this season the Blackhawks did not allow a goal at even strength. Both of the Oilers' tallies came on the power play.

3. Four-line rotation

Perhaps the best part of this Blackhawks offensive outburst is that it came from everyone. All 12 forwards got on the scoresheet, except for David Kampf who left in the second period with a right foot injury.

The fourth line was particularly strong. The trio of Hayden, Chris Kunitz and Marcus Kruger drew a penalty in the first period that led to a Blackhawks power-play goal, and Hayden's goal is the one that started the offensive explosion. 

The Blackhawks have been top heavy all season long, so it's certainly encouraging to see all four lines chip in on offense. It's the third time in five games the team has scored at least six goals during their winning streak. That'll work.

4. Erie Otters reunion

On Monday night, there was an Erie Otters reunion in Edmonton before the actual game on Tuesday as former linemates Alex DeBrincat, Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome all grabbed dinner together to catch up. 

The trio put up ridiculous numbers together in the OHL. Strome is the Otters' all-time leading points scorer at 354, DeBrincat is second at 332 and McDavid is fourth at 285.

"They're probably two of the closest guys I've ever seen," McDavid told reporters before the game on the relationship of DeBrincat and Strome. "They love each other off the ice. They love to play with each other on the ice. It's a connection that they both really like."

DeBrincat registered an assist against the Oilers to extend his point streak to six games. Strome scored his fourth goal in six games. And McDavid recorded a pair of primary assists. It was a productive night for the former Erie trio.

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

Corey Crawford acknowledges he's ready to return for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are back within two points of a wild card spot, and they may finally be getting their star goaltender back soon.

After joining the team on the ice for the fourth time in a week, Corey Crawford met with the media on Friday and acknowledged he's essentially ready to come back. But it's not up to him when he'll actually return.

"It's really hard to say," Crawford said. "It's not up to me. I'm healthy to play right now. Really it's whether they think I'm ready to get in the net."

The Blackhawks have won eight of their past nine games, and have gotten terrific goaltending from Collin Delia and Cam Ward. There's no urgency to rush Crawford back, but if he's ready, he's ready and he basically serves as a trade deadline acquisition on his own.

"We've been playing great," Crawford said. "I think that's a tough situation too. Obviously you don't want to come back in and [not] be at the top of my game. We're in a pretty good run right now, a pretty good stretch. It's really thinking about what game do you throw me in? I'll leave that up to Jeremy [Colliton]. Whenever they want to, I'm ready to play."

Colliton was asked about Crawford's potential timeline and said there will be discussions internally about when he will be back between the pipes for the Blackhawks. All we know is, that won't come on Saturday against Columbus. But it likely will be very soon.

"It’s good to hear he’s feeling good," Colliton said. "That’s good. We’ll discuss it in the staff and let you know.”

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Breaking down why Cam Ward has been better than his numbers show with Blackhawks

If you look at Cam Ward's stat line this season, his numbers don't look great. In fact, they aren't very good.

His 3.60 goals against average ranks dead last in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 starts, and .898 save percentage ranks 39th out of 47th. But there's a reason for that.

Ward is facing 9.4 high-danger chances at even strength per game and a shade above 11 in all situations, according to naturalstattrick.com. No other goaltender is seeing that many quality of shots at that rate. Couple that with the fact that the Blackhawks are giving up the second-most shots in general (35.4) and the numbers simply won't favor the goaltender, no matter who's in net. 

On Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, Ward faced 19 total high-danger shots against. He stopped all 19 of those. He also turned aside 35 of 36 shots at 5-on-5 to up his season save percentage to .922 in that area.

Where Ward's overall save percentage has taken a big hit this season is the penalty kill. He's given up 26 power-play goals on 122 shots against for a .787 save percentage. Some of that is on him. But the Blackhawks statistically have the worst penalty kill in the league with a 73.4 percent kill rate, so there's plenty of blame to go around.

In the big picture, Ward deserves more credit than he's getting for his on-ice play with Corey Crawford out and off-ice role by serving as a great mentor for Collin Delia. Quite frankly, the Blackhawks likely wouldn't be in the playoff race at this point in the season if it wasn't for him because he's bridged the gap perfectly between a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie and 24-year-old who had only two NHL starts going into this season.

Remember how last season turned out when they didn't have a veteran like Ward?